THE BLOG
12/11/2014 12:43 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2015

Careers in Eating Disorder Treatment and Awareness

Only one in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment, and among those that do receive treatment, only 35 percent seek treatment at a facility specializing in the treatment of eating disorders.* This disquieting statistic underscores the need for heightened awareness and education initiatives and the need for more specialized treatment options for patients and families.

Expanded efforts related to eating disorder awareness, education and treatment will be supported by dedicated professionals across a wide spectrum of disciplines, including both clinical and non-clinical fields. As such, eating disorder career opportunities are diverse and include:

Eating disorder treatment, direct patient care. There are a myriad of opportunities to work with eating-disordered patients in a clinical setting, due in part to the complexity of these illnesses. Many disciplines are important in the comprehensive treatment of eating disorders, including therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, dietitians, internal medicine physicians, pediatricians, nurses, patient care assistants and case managers. Additionally, there are many different treatment settings offering care for eating disorders. Specialized treatment centers addressing only eating disorders, general behavioral health hospitals and independent outpatient practices offer rewarding clinical opportunities. Careers providing direct care to patients and families generally require specialized training in the form of degrees, licenses or certificates.

Eating disorder treatment centers, non-clinical positions. Eating disorder treatment centers cannot continue to provide care to patients and families if they are not sustainable organizations. Healthy organizations generally have administrative teams supporting the delivery of clinical care, including marketing, finance, human resources and operations departments. These positions may be ideal for individuals who are passionate about eating disorders awareness and treatment but have training and expertise in non-clinical fields.

Non-profit awareness and advocacy organizations. Non-profit organizations seek to raise awareness about eating disorders and to champion for effective care for patients and families. In order to effectively deliver upon their missions, these organizations need skilled employees specializing in the areas of non-profit leadership, development/fundraising, event planning and general administrative functions. The National Eating Disorders Association and the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders are examples of consumer-facing awareness and advocacy organizations seeking to educate, support and connect individuals in the eating disorder community. Several other organizations seek to promote eating disorder awareness and education among medical and mental health professionals, including the Academy for Eating Disorders, the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals and the Eating Recovery Center Foundation. Professionals specializing in legal and political fields can find meaningful careers at an organization like the Eating Disorders Coalition, an advocacy organization focusing on enacting legislative changes that will drastically improve access to eating disorder care. They engage the community of professionals, patients and families to lobby Congress to educate them about eating disorders and garner support for legislative initiatives.

The choice to pursue a career in eating disorder treatment often stems from personal experience with the illness. The tendency among those touched by eating disorders to pursue careers in this field can be rewarding and provides strong intrinsic motivation compelling employees to excel in their positions. However, it can present challenges for others -- in some cases, working with eating disordered patients can trigger a relapse or activate a latent genetic predisposition (for those who have not yet struggled with an eating disorder personally but have a family history of the illness). While policies among organizations vary, it's a generally accepted best practice in the eating disorder field to request that applicants disclose a prior eating disorder and have several years of active eating disorder recovery (in other words, a significant period of time free from maladaptive eating disorder behaviors and thoughts). At the eating disorder treatment center that I founded in 2008, many clinical and administrative staff identify as being in recovery from an eating disorder. This disclosure in the application process is optional but strongly encouraged so that we can provide adequate support and resources to the employees that contribute to our mission of providing comprehensive care to our patients and families.

The need for awareness and effective treatment for eating disorders is growing, and passionate, dedicated individuals are necessary support this growth in both clinical and non-clinical positions. To learn more about careers in eating disorders awareness and treatment, visit the websites of related organizations and look for a "careers" section or page. Networking can also be a powerful tool to learn more about careers in the field. Consider searching LinkedIn using related keywords to find eating disorder treatment specialists and relevant professional groups.

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If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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*"Characteristics and Treatment of Patients with Chronic Eating Disorders," Noordenbox, G., International Journal of Eating Disorders, Volume 10: 15-29, 2002.